David Pearce’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Here you are, a murder in a family of thieves"
Shoot the Piano Player could have been very emotional. It could have looked very beautiful and could have featured a compelling story. Instead Truffaut seems too inclined to attribute the comedic qualities found in the films of fellow French new wave directors, to a film in which it didn't seem appropriate.
Easily the greatest and most glaring problem with Shoot the Piano Player is an incoherent tone, which results in a film lacking its own identity. Shoot the Piano Player should have been a straight forward crime thriller, in fact it should have borrowed a lot more from early film noir. The story was adapted from the novel by David Goodis of the same name which was originally a straight forward crime thriller, and in very minor tweaks François Truffaut changed the tone of the book. It's not as though Shoot the Piano Player is not still a crime thriller that borrows a great deal from film noir, but there's almost forcefully added on some incredibly unfunny dialogue. It's in Truffaut almost complete lack of wit and the film's cast lack of comedic timing where the film becomes very tiresome and at times embarrassing. Particularly the two men who are constantly chasing the protagonist, Charlie. When, for a brief couple of scenes, they capture Charlie and his girlfriend, what insues in a remarkably cringe worthy scene proving how unfunny Truffaut's writing is, but more importantly how out of place comedy feels in this film. Because, without the attempts at comedy, the film is actually very sad. There are multiple tragedies, Charlie is incredibly introverted, the final shot was one of sorrow that rivaled that of a Vittorio De Sica ending. It's not just that the writing simply wasn't funny, Shoot the Piano Player had no business trying to be funny. For brief moments it was a very well executed drama that was cheapened by lackluster attempts at humour.
I write "brief moments", as the film was not always wonderful. The story had a terrible problem of relationships and motivations being dictated by the narrative rather than any logic. Besides the two characters having a feud over a love, Charlie and Plyne seemed to share a very healthy relationship that shouldn't have been dissolved to the state of fighting over a woman. Plyne, when discussing their mutual love interest, didn't even seem particularly invested in her, which made their fight later in the film all the more nonsensical. Still on the topic of love, Charlie and Léna's relationship was seemingly constructed on nothing. Without a doubt Charlie was very attracted to Léna, but prior to their being kidnapped Léna didn't show much interest in Charlie. The relationship shared between Léna and Charlie was one of the strongest of the film, but it lacked a truly natural beginning.
Shoot the Piano Player had awkward comedy on top of what was already a rather melodramatic plot. There were hardly any minor issues, what's wrong with the film is a fundamental misdirection of the script and a cast that didn't seem to handle the unnatural pairing of genres very well. This is an unfortunately introduction to François Truffaut as his talent is clearly evident and merely from the influences he exhibits I can tell I will like his style, but Shoot the Piano Player was overall a misguided effort.